The art of matchmaking in boxing is a practice of toeing several lines at once. The one between giving your fighter confidence and giving them a learning experience. The one at the intersection of actual danger based on skill and perceived danger based on name value. The one between delivering an impressive performance under duress and creating doubt in the fanbase’s minds.
Every once in a while, thread is needled perfectly, the convergence of the right matchmaking and the right performance from the fighter themselves.
That’s precisely what we saw on Saturday night, as Diego Pacheco battled through both scary moments and frustrating momentum swings to stop former world title challenger Marcelo Coceres inside nine rounds.
Pacheco was a part of the initial cast of Matchroom USA signees upon its launch and broadcast partnership with DAZN, alongside Alexis Espino, Otha Jones III, Ammo Williams, Marc Castro and more. Some, like Espino and Jones, suffered early career setbacks and found themselves dismissed by the boxing public. Others, like Williams and Castro, found themselves stuck in place for longer than perhaps they would like to have been.
For a period of time, it looked like Pacheco might at least fall into the latter category. In June of 2022, he arrived in Guadalajara with a new trainer in Jose Benavidez Sr. to face club fighter Raul Ortega. Though Pacheco ultimately scored the fourth-round stoppage, he was badly buzzed in the second round. In retrospect, of course, this was a good learning experience, and the second fight in what would ultimately be a transformational partnership with Benavidez. But Pacheco is a developing fighter in the digital era, a period of time in which more boxing is broadcast somewhere than in any other time in human history. Every single one of Pacheco’s fights to that point and since had and have been aired on DAZN, and as a result, subject to widespread analysis and scrutiny. Gone are the days of mid-week stay-busy fights in the dark where fighters could learn in relative obscurity aside from the paying audience in the venue on a given night. So many walked away from the Ortega bout thinking that Pacheco was a vulnerable prospect who had perhaps made a trainer change in search of answers.
The truth about Pacheco would be revealed in his next series of fights. The East Los Angeles product would next be matched with Olympian Enrique Collazo, a fighter whose production never quite lived up to his promise, but whose amateur pedigree posed both a real and perceived threat. Pacheco stopped him in five rounds, and did so on a Canelo Alvarez undercard, bringing further attention to himself. Two fights later, he was given a hastily produced main event slot in the United Kingdom against Jack Cullen, a solid European-level talent with more professional experience, and stopped him in four rounds. Four months later, he produced the exact same result against Manuel Gallegos in a main event slot in Mexico, a fourth-round body shot KO.
After those wins, Pacheco found himself not just world ranked by every sanctioning body, but as high as No. 3 by the WBO, making him an interesting proposition for Matchroom matchmaker Kevin Rooney. Pacheco now carried the burden of being a contender, both in the eyes of the boxing public and the sanctioning bodies themselves. He couldn’t just languish at the same level he’d been dominant at in his previous four fights. The fans would be asking for more, and there were ranking demands to satisfy now too.
Enter Marcelo Coceres, who had become the go-to gatekeeper for the names Pacheco was eager to be contemporaries with, fellow ranked super middleweight contenders Edgar Berlanga, Erik Bazinyan, as well as middleweight Meiirim Nursultanov. Apart from Bazinyan, who boxed fairly comfortably to a decision win against him, Coceres had reliably provided not just resistance, but genuine scares, just as he did in his 2019 world title attempt against Billy Joe Saunders in which he was ahead on the scorecards before being stopped in the 11th round.
Pacheco was a baby-faced prospect on the undercard the night Coceres challenged for a world title, but a small handful of years later had chased him down.
The fight played out in a way that satisfied the demands of both the fanbase and those tasked with Pacheco’s career development—trainer, matchmaker, promoter.
Pacheco’s length and jab were a strong deterrent for the first three rounds, until Coceres rejected the tacit agreement he’d lapsed into to just box at long range. In the fourth round, and even moreso in the fifth round, Coceres found a home for a sweeping left hook that produced some head-rattling reactions from Pacheco. Suddenly, Pacheco found himself in the ring with a fighter who could threaten him with both power and physical strength, and had the experience and ring smarts to do something with it.
It’s in these moments when failed prospects, the ones that wind up labeled “hype jobs” forever after, crumble. We’ve seen it many times. A fighter who had no future competing at a high level would have been wiped out then and there by Coceres, who has proven to be the delineation between real and fake for rising super middleweights.
Instead, Pacheco not only made the necessary technical adjustments, but matched the intensity and physicality of Coceres in the necessary way as well. The 22-year old couldn’t let the man ten years older than him bully him any longer, so Pacheco began to lean on his vaunted power. By the end of the eighth round, Benavidez Sr. had seen the clues that he was looking for in Coceres, and told his fighter that Coceres was “ready to get out of there.”
About a minute later, Pacheco was uncorking a video game-caliber uppercut that nearly sent Coceres through the ropes. As Coceres knelt on the canvas listening to the count, his mind or his body made the decision to stay there until the sound of “ten.” Pacheco had done what the tough gatekeepers of the world threaten to do to their opponents: He’d broken his will.
With the victory, Pacheco had beaten an opponent more convincingly, more impressively than the fighters in his orbit. He’d also shown the ability to battle through adversity, both to the audience and to himself.
“You’ve got a young American fighter, (Mexican) background, who can really fight and who can punch, and he’s still only 22 years old. You know, part of me just doesn’t want to get it wrong,” said Eddie Hearn during a post-fight media scrum following the bout. “There’s improvements that need to be made, he knows that, but he’s only going to get better. It’s frightening to think that at 22, he could have another three fights before he starts thinking about world championships, and the improvements he’s going to make in 2024. He’s already Top 10 with every sanctioning body, Top 3 with the WBO, and sometimes, you know, when Canelo Alvarez moves up or doesn’t fight a mandatory, opportunities become available, so we’ve got to be ready in 2024. But for me, it’s more like 2025. But next year, I love the names we’ve mentioned, Munguia, Edgar Berlanga.”
As for what Pacheco wants next?
“You can ask Eddie about that, I’ve been telling him, that’s what I’m in this business for, that’s what I’m in this sport for, to take on the big fights and to take my name to number one,” said Pacheco. ”I just want to show the boxing world that I’m keeping the same level of performance even though the level of opposition is going up.”